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Winter Camping for the Beginner

Winter can be a magical time to explore British Columbia and try new activities. Thankfully, there are many campgrounds and parks – both private and public – open in the ‘off-season’.

It’s true that winter camping comes with its own unique challenges and safety considerations for campers and RVers. If heading out in an RV there is winter camping trip prep to follow. For renters, note that a number of RV companies and dealers do rent out motorhomes and units in the winter. Make sure that the RV has double-pane windows, a high efficiency furnace, an interior winter cab blanket and comes with insulated and heated water and waste holding tanks.

Tent camping is a special way to connect with the elements in the colder months of the year. Campers need to be in the know about what nature may throw their way and how to best handle it.

When trying winter camping for the first few times it’s recommended to stay close to home and choose a campground not too far off the beaten path. Invest in any necessary itemsor borrow from friends or family who have ventured out at this time of year; gear rental is also an option. As with all camping trips, having a plan and being prepared is the key.

Here are some helpful tips to make your winter camping experience an enjoyable one:

Essential Gear

  • Make a gear list, bring quality winter and windproof clothing, plenty of warm wool-blend socks, long underwear and layer, layer, layer. Mittens are a better option than gloves and a wool hat is a smart choice as is a balaclava.
  • Invest in waterproof winter boots with a warm lining and decent treads for traction. Crampons are a good bet too, particularly for icy days.
  • Pack a water bottle for heating or hand and toe warmers.
  • If tenting buy or borrow a sleeping bag rated from -15°C to -40°C and a four-season tent with wind tarp (three-season tents will do in mild winter conditions below the treeline). Pack a foam liner or inflatable sleeping pad for under the sleeping bag.
  • Bring insulated camping chairs (there are even ones with battery heated seats). Wool blankets are great too, just don’t get them wet!
  • Purchase a portable power pack if you don’t have one and pack extra batteries.
  • Don’t forget head lamps and lanterns – they’re a must as it gets darker earlier in the winter. Pack ski goggles and good sunglasses for snow/sun reflection.
  • Have the first aid kit ready and educate yourself about basic first aid. Put sunscreen under your nose and chin and get an SPF lip balm as the snow reflects the sun!
  • Trekking poles and snowshoes are a fun option as are binoculars for winter bird watching. An ice axe is an idea for added safety and security should you be planning any hikes; make sure you know how to correctly use it.

Campfires & Meals

  • Read our article on how to build a campfire.
  • Get a waterproof case for the firestarter/matches.
  • Bring a small shovel to clear snow from around the campfire pit. A small sled will also come in handy for hauling wood or gear around.
  • Pack some ready-made or freeze-dried options to simplify meal times. High calorie foods are good in winter as are soups and hot drinks.
  • Invest in water purification tablets or a water treatment system for camping if you plan to melt snow, and pack extra fuel.
  • Make sure you have insulated water bottles and tin mugs.
  • Pack a long rope or carabiner system for hanging food.

Animal Awareness

Even in the winter campers and hikers need to be aware of animals and their surroundings and continue to respect wildlife. Always exercise caution. Keep food locked away and do not leave scraps behind – pack out what you pack in.

Don’t feed the animals or get too close. Moose can be aggressive, bears can come out of hibernation, and any animal can be unpredictable if provoked. Stay alert, and move about slowly and quietly and respect the wilderness that you are in. BC Conservation Foundation provides good information.

Backcountry Safety

If you plan to venture out on the trails in BC’s backcountry to hike, snowshoe, cross country ski etc. only do so if you, or the person you are with, is experienced in that outdoor activity in winter. Always have an emergency plan and tell someone where you are going and your estimated timeline beforehand. Check out Adventure Smart for more information.

For more helpful tips check out our FAQ page on winter camping and read the article Tips for Novice Campers.